How to make thrifty, creative meals with creamy bean puree

Thrifty, creative meals can be made with creamy bean purée.

If any one dish captures my cooking style these days, it’s the preparation from southern Italy known as fave e cicoria, where dried fava beans are cooked into a rough purée and laid down in a soft nest for a heap of braised chicory greens.

It’s a model we riff on often at home, typically using a white bean of some kind and whatever leafy greens we have on hand, drizzling the lot with olive oil, cutting into a crusty loaf of fresh bread, and digging in. Its flavors are focused and clear, delicious in an elemental way. And it supports my realization that with each passing year, I want my food to become simpler and more straightforward.

I rarely plan for this dish in advance. Instead, it presents itself as the perfect remedy for imperfectly cooked beans, the ones that I’d intended to use for something else but that cooked unevenly or burst a little too much through their skins.

Or it’s an opportunity to take surplus beans, leftovers from a large batch I’d cooked for an earlier meal, for a quietly luxurious new turn. It functions, somewhat, as a remedial preparation, yet it never tastes like a compromise.

It echoed in a canteen lunch plate I was served last summer, of roasted and barely marinated beets, onions and tomatoes anchored by a silken, nutty chickpea purée that behaved like dip, sauce and main feature all at once. This meal was striking for several reasons, but my major takeaway came via a comparison to our smashed beans and greens standby — and back at home, I realized it was a preparation even better suited to spontaneity than my usual approach. Even if a bunch of greens is not on hand, some other vegetable (or three) will stand in nicely, for a meal of dipping, smearing, swiping, heaping.

The foundation works with virtually any type of bean you may have going on the stove, or stashed in the fridge. Gently braised or quickly sautéed greens, whether faintly bitter escarole or sweet chard or spicy mustards or pungent kale, seem soul-matched to all kinds.

Other accompaniments may lean in a particular direction. Milder, more purely sweet and buttery-tasting beans (various white, tan and yellow ones) pair more naturally with delicate vegetables seasoned with a sparing hand; earthier, more assertive-tasting beans (cranberry, pinto, red and black beans) may call for burlier accompaniments.

In the accompanying variations, I’ve offered a few suggestions for how that might look: shredded Brussels sprouts, hashed just until buoyant with crushed cumin, lemon and chopped cilantro; roasted cauliflower florets and frizzled leeks edged with crushed caraway and mustard seed; roasted golden beets, given some levity with a quick vinegar bath and a fluff of spicy mustard greens.

The recipe for the beans makes enough for about four; if you have some left over, save the cooking liquid left from simmering them — you’ll need a few tablespoons to thin the leftover purée, and the rest is liquid gold, at least for a few days. Use it in place of meat or vegetable stock in soups and stews, and the bean-cooking effort will reward you yet again.



Warm Pureed Beans With Olive Oil and Lemony Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4

For the beans

1½ cups (about 276 grams) dried beans

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt or fine sea salt, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

For the Brussels sprouts

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon cumin seed, lightly crushed

Freshly cracked black pepper

½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

¼ cup water

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice from ½ lemon

½ cup chopped, loosely packed cilantro leaves and stems

8 slices crusty bread, toasted, plus more as needed

For the beans: Soak the beans for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain, then add enough fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to a very low boil and cook, partially covered, until the skins have just begun to split. This may take from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the freshness and the type of the beans. Taste a few of the beans: they should be quite soft but not yet falling apart (but if they are, use them anyway). Cook longer if needed, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the beans rest for at least 15 minutes before using. (If the beans have been cooked in advance, reheat them in their cooking liquid until hot before puréeing.)

For the Brussels sprouts: While the beans are cooking, use a sharp knife to thinly slice the Brussels sprouts. Transfer to a bowl, separating the slices into shreds as you go.

Warm 1 tablespoon oil in a wide, deep-sided sauté pan or a Dutch oven over medium heat until the oil is warm enough to slick the pan. Add the cumin seeds and a few grinds of black pepper and heat for about 1 minute, just until fragrant. Add the sprouts, salt and the water and cook, stirring, 3 to 5 minutes, just until the sprouts have wilted. Add the lemon zest, juice and cilantro, stirring just until the cilantro has wilted. Turn off the heat. Taste, and season with more salt and pepper, as needed. Cover the pot to prevent the sprouts from drying out.

Add garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to the food processor (retaining the cooking liquid in the pot), but don’t worry about draining each spoonful thoroughly. Add the salt and oil; purée until coarsely creamy. Add some of the reserved bean cooking liquid, a tablespoon at a time, and process further for a looser consistency. Taste, and add more salt as needed.

To serve, spread about 2/3 cup of the beans in the center of each plate. Divide the Brussels sprouts over the beans and drizzle with a little more oil.

Serve warm, with toasted bread slices.

* * *

Roasted Beets and Shredded Mustard Greens

How to make thrifty, creative meals with creamy bean puree

Roasted Beets and Shredded Mustard Greens.

Serve this on its own, or over Warm Bean Purée With Olive Oil (see related recipe).

Serves 4

1½ pounds small- to medium golden beets, washed, trimmed and dried

½ teaspoon kosher salt or fine sea salt, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Leaves from 4 large mustard greens stems, cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade; 2 packed cups; may substitute arugula)

1 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Freshly cracked black pepper, plus more as needed

Heat the oven to 425 F.

Wrap each beet in aluminum foil, then put directly on a rack in the center of the oven. Roast the beets for about 45 minutes, or until they can be pierced with the tip of a paring knife. (Larger beets may require more time.) Remove the beets from the oven using tongs and, carefully, partially open the foil to let the steam escape. Let the beets rest until they are cool enough to handle.

Combine the salt and vinegar in a bowl large enough to hold the beets. While the beets are still warm, remove their foil and peel off the skin (it should come off easily using your thumb, but use a paring knife if necessary.)

Add the beets to the bowl with the seasoned vinegar and toss thoroughly to coat. Marinate for at least 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, divide the beets among individual plates, then follow with the mustard greens. Drizzle each plate with a little olive oil, and season with more salt and/or pepper, as needed.

* * *

Roasted Leeks and Cauliflower

How to make thrifty, creative meals with creamy bean puree

Roasted Leeks and Cauliflower.

Serve this on its own, or over Warm Bean Purée With Olive Oil (see related recipe).

Serves 4

2 medium leeks (white parts only), trimmed

One medium head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cored and cut into bite-size florets

1 teaspoon brown mustard seed

1 teaspoon caraway seed

1 teaspoon kosher salt or fine sea salt, plus more as needed

Freshly cracked black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Heat the oven to 425 F.

Halve the leeks lengthwise, and rinse thoroughly under running water, separating the top layers, to remove any dirt or grit. Slice each half across into ¼-inch thick pieces. Thoroughly dry them and transfer to a large bowl with the cauliflower.

Coarsely crush the mustard, caraway seeds and salt in a mortar and pestle, then add, along with a pinch of black pepper, to the vegetables. Add the oil and toss to coat. Transfer the vegetables to a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is charred in spots and the leeks are well browned. Halfway through roasting, turn the vegetables over using a spatula or tongs.

To serve, drizzle with a little more oil. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

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